Objects Of Affection: Idolator’s Tribute-Video Treasury

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Ed. note: It’s no secret that we’re big lovers of YouTube “tribute” clips–those fan-made videos in which users create musical homages to their favorite pop-culture properties. The only problem is that 3/4 of these mini-movies revolve around Star Wars, the Harry Potter films or Gilmore Girls, usually all at once. So from now on, Idolator intern Kate Richardson will be scouring the video sites, looking for the most unlikely objects of affection. In this entry, she dives into the surprisingly well-populated world of Keiko videos:

The majority of tribute videos center on either a) an untimely death, or b) the triumph over adversity. Keiko, best known as the titular Orca whale in Free Willy, combines them both: The poor creature suffered for years in ill-equipped marine parks, and was laboriously transported to filming locations God knows how many times until he was finally released into the wild in 2002–only to die a year and a half later. His story is tribute video-worthy, to say the least, but is it Andrew Lloyd Webber-dramatic or pop-ballad tragic? Let’s find out.

Song: “Think of Me” from The Phantom of the Opera (performed by Emmy Rossum)Concept: Keiko as wistful lover. While the use of only still images in this video puts it at a disadvantage, the sheer audacity of the song/subject pairing gives it a real fighting chance: Not since Cats has the animal kingdom crossed paths with Andrew Lloyd Webber to such a triumphant end. Granted, this song has essentially no practical parallels with the Keiko story, but with a little imagination, one can picture Keiko imploring the masses to hold him in their hearts. Plus the drippy, swelling instrumentation does correspond quite nicely with a few of Keiko’s action shots. A strange but charming video presumably made by an earnest lover of animals and schmaltzy musicals.Best music-to-image sync-up moment: The oddly stirring Keiko memorial collage that corresponds to the song’s triumphant closing crescendo. Silliest music-to-image sync-up moment: The picture of Keiko with the crab dangling out of his mouth.

Song: “Breakaway” by Kelly ClarksonConcept: Keiko as a small-town whale with big dreams. One initially assumes that Clarkson and Keiko have little to nothing in common, but this video–when combined with the “Breakaway” lyrics–makes the case for a Kelly-Keiko connection. For instance, Keiko spent nearly his entire life cooped up in tanks, pining for “the rush of the ocean.” He, too, “felt like no one could hear [him].” And, like Clarkson’s narrator, he eventually took a chance, made a change, and broke away. Aside from the lyrical correspondence, this video has superior editing, lots of good Keiko footage, and masterful use of slow-mo. Could have done without the sad grainy footage of Keiko being lifted out of a tank in a harness, but that’s a minor offense.Best music-to-image sync-up moment: Every time Keiko jumps up into the air in slow motion as Kelly sings “I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly/I’ll do what it takes ’til I touch the sky.” Silliest music-to-image sync-up moment: The obvious shot of Keiko boarding a plane as Kelly sings “Travel on a jet plane, far away.” A little too literal.

Verdict: While fusing The Phantom of the Opera with an Orca is a novel experiment, the Kelly Clarkson video just has too much going for it, form and content-wise; appropriately, it breaks away from the rest, earning its place as the ultimate Keiko tribute.

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